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For Immediate Release, January 25, 2011

Contact:  Tierra Curry, Center for Biological Diversity, (928) 522-3681
Dr. Bruce Means, Coastal Plains Institute and Land Conservancy, (850) 681-6208
Jim Ries, One More Generation, (678) 491-6222

Two Georgia Counties Asked to Enforce State Wildlife Laws at Rattlesnake Roundups

ATLANTA— The Center for Biological Diversity and allies today sent a letter to law-enforcement officials in Grady and Evans counties, Ga., calling for enforcement of state wildlife laws at “rattlesnake roundups” — annual contests in which hunters bring in as many snakes as they can catch in a year to be milked for venom, butchered, then sold for meat and skin. Two roundups take place every year in Georgia, one in Whigham in January, the other in Claxton in March. The letter was sent to the sheriffs of Grady and Evans counties and to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

Georgia state law requires that a wildlife exhibition permit be obtained from the Department of Natural Resources before wildlife is publicly displayed. Another law states that wildlife cannot be brought into the state without obtaining an importation permit. The letter asks that appropriate law-enforcement measures be taken before and during the roundups to ensure that the events are in compliance with state laws. The letter was sent by the Center, Coastal Plains Institute and Land Conservancy and One More Generation.

“We are concerned that the rattlesnake roundups may be violating state wildlife laws, and we urge law-enforcement officials to take action to enforce those laws,” said Tierra Curry, a biologist at the Center. “It is time to end rattlesnake roundups.”

A recently published study shows that rattlesnake roundups have depleted populations of eastern diamondback rattlesnakes in the southeastern United States: This once-common species is being pushed toward extinction by hunting pressure, habitat loss and road mortality. The snake hasn’t been seen in Louisiana since 1980, and is now uncommon throughout its range in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi and the Carolinas.

In response to dwindling rattlesnake populations, public pressure and environmental concerns, the town of Fitzgerald, Ga., replaced its rattlesnake roundup with a wild chicken festival, which organizers report has been an enormous success.

“All rattlesnake roundups should be replaced with festivals celebrating wildlife and offering educational programs on the importance of saving native species,” said Dr. Bruce Means, author of the recent study and executive director of the Coastal Plains Institute and Land Conservancy.

Last January the Center and allies called on Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue to amend state law to ban rattlesnake roundups and to work with communities to replace the roundups with wildlife festivals. The Center has also urged the state to investigate the extent of gassing and destruction of gopher tortoise burrows to collect snakes for rattlesnake roundups. Though the practice is illegal, hunters commonly catch snakes by pouring gasoline or ammonia into burrows or by digging out the burrows. In January 2010 four men were apprehended pouring gasoline into tortoise burrows before the Whigham roundup. Pouring gasoline into burrows sickens or kills the animals inside and makes the burrows unusable for tortoises and the hundreds of other wildlife species that use tortoise burrows.

“Rattlesnakes are an important part of the web of life that help control rodent populations,” said Jim Ries, community director at One More Generation. “Roundups are harmful to the healthy environment on which we all depend, and must be banned.”

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